CH2 Group 52 (Scores released in November)
Action/Adventure, Uninhabited Island, Mattress
They let me get hold of a blade.
My mistake lay in believing the Rusalka’s crew enough to protect us from pirates. The Marska had sunk in 1564, and someone we’d trusted had leaked the GPS location of the wreck. My scholarship and the crew of divers had found it, and its treasure. The pirates had found us. On the Baltic sea of all places.
The crew’s blood had washed the deck, including the owner’s. They only kept me alive because I’d lied my ass off. Good thing they’d believed me the titleholder. Granted, my lover and I did share a superficial resemblance. Her bank accounts alone were worth more than the treasure salvaged from the wreck. The pirates had kept me captive for days, sailing up the coast of Gotland to this deserted place.
I lay quietly where they’d thrown me after beaching the landing raft. I watched the bobbing lights of the yacht where she berthed far off the uninhabited island of Gotska Sandon. Deep into the night, my captors celebrated. My eyes burned, but I refused to shed tears, not yet. After my vengeance would be soon enough. The blood of friends and lovers cried out for company on the long walk into death, and I wouldn’t let them walk alone. Not while breath filled my lungs.
I wrapped my fingers loosely around the blade I’d found. It was old, but still of modern make. Probably rusty as hell but the pirates wouldn’t need to worry about tetanus when I’d finished with them. I worked my bound wrists down over the back of my thighs and pulled my ankles through the loop of my hands.
I listened carefully. They’d pitched camp on the side of the island furthest away from the national park. Tourists left at dusk. No one lived here. Far above, the sky spread like black velvet speckled with diamonds. In the east, a faint smear of gray edged the horizon. It needed to be now. These arsehats were early risers. Even if they’d drunk too much last night, one at least would wake early to piss.
Listening to the resonant snores of the crew, I sawed at the ropes binding my ankles, then braced the handle of the knife—a Ka-Bar by the feel—between my heels and raked my bracelets of knotted cord against the serrated edge. The fibers parted slowly but steadily, and gratitude that they’d used cotton clothesline to tie me warmed my chest. Nylon or chain would’ve been problematic.
Finally, the ties gave, and I eased to standing. I shifted on the sand, warming my muscles and getting the feel of the terrain. There were six of them, four men and two women. The harsh glow of the campfire—now reduced to embers—cast little light, but the full silver orb of the moon cresting the clear sky illuminated more than enough for my task.
Cold, night-damp sand shushed under my bare feet, and sharp blades of dune grass whispered against my jeans as I crept closer. The summer night slithered like cool silk over my bare arms. Excitement bubbled up inside me. I marked the man lying furthest from the flames for first death. Alistair—a young redhead with a Scot’s accent—lay sprawled and uncaring on a mattress salvaged from Rusalka. I wanted the holstered DW razorback 10 mm near his left hand.
Accustomed to the dim light, the caress of the moon’s rays gleamed on the brushed nickel of the pistol and the long, curving wave of Alistair’s red lashes. I’d seen him moving around, as I’d watched each of my captors over the past days. The younger brother of the woman who led this group, he wasn’t old enough for university yet. I inched closer, it wasn’t the first time I’d killed. Eagerly, I crouched down. They didn’t know that neither the name I’d given them nor the one I’d given my lover were accurate.
It was them or me.
Alistair’s eyes flew open wide, and the guuerk that escaped him when I drove the rusty blade up under his chin and into his brain made me close my eyes in satisfaction.
Luck, fickle bitch, smiled on me in that moment as his scalding blood bathed my fist. The sound didn’t carry the ten feet to the others. Nor did the scrape of leather against steel as I pulled his RZ-10. I’ve always had a gift for weapons, a benefit in my trade.
I checked the clip, full, and he carried it hot, a round in the chamber. Idiot.
I smiled happily, thought about playing with them and decided not to.
The trigger bit into my finger on the first hard squeeze, easier after that. At ten feet, my aim is close to perfect. Pink-gray brain matter splattered over silvered sands, the crack-crack-crack of my vengeance echoed off the pine forest skirting the beach, and the bellowing cries of seals marked my freedom.
Five times, I squeezed, five more lives I took. Hair of bronze, black or red silk, downy black braids and the bald brown pate of the last man, awake and training his weapon at me. My bullet gave him a third eye.
In the silence of ecstatic murder, the scent of cordite tasted bitter on the dawn air. The seals—iconic members of this Swedish island—and the startled birds of the dunes and forest, all objected to this violation of the peace.
I stood, alone, finally letting my tears fall. I’d miss her, my lover, I glanced at Rusalka, being her heir of record helped.
Brilliant purple flowers in a nest of green lay speckled with scarlet blood.
I fed the campfire, poured a cup of leftover coffee from the pot with calm hands, and drank it black.
I rarely let the monster out. We’re all savages if pushed hard enough. It just didn’t take much for me.
I liked it that way.
CH1 Group 52 Scored 8/15
Romantic Comedy, Slice of Lemon, Jewelry Shop
Alexandrie left her husband Esmé when she discovered his true profession. Now, three years later, she longs for her Frenchman and her father has decided to put their relationship to rights.
“One more hour.” Alexandrie sighed and ran her manicured fingernail over the slice of lemon garnishing her empty glass. Normally, a dark and stormy used a lime wedge, but she’d picked up the habit of using lemon in it from him. She shook off her melancholy—it wasn’t as if she’d been the liar, the thief—and poured another. Lonely in her father’s elegant office at the back of the jewelry shop, she dug out her cell phone and flipped through the dating app. She’d wanted to close early, but Papa had insisted a client with an urgent appraisal would come in. Alex pursed her lips and flipped through her messages. She didn’t want to date anyone.
“Why is patience a virtue? Why can’t hurry the fuck up be a virtue?” She tossed her phone onto the desk. “Stop thinking about him, he’s a scoundrel.” Ever since she’d met Esmé, she’d been lost. Even three years apart hadn’t cured her passion. She missed him. “Just… wise up, Alex.” She pressed her thighs together, thinking about him got her wet. “Merde.” She realized she’d used his favorite epithet and slammed back her drink. She checked the clock, only a few moments before she could close up shop. She’d have to masturbate tonight to get thoughts of Esmé out of her head.
“Bloody Frenchman.” She stood up and smoothed her skirt down her thighs. “Love is a blind whore with a mental disease and absolutely no sense of humor.” The bell tinkled, and her shoulders slumped. She’d have to do the appraisal after all. She left the office and muttered, “He’s not some modern day Robin Hood, no matter what he does with the money.”
“Except, chérie, that’s exactly what I am.”
Alex closed her eyes. How could her father set her up like this? “No, husband dearest, you are a criminal.”
He made a distinctly French noise, and she knew he’d shrug one shoulder in that way of his. Daring herself, she opened her eyes and her heart skipped a beat. His body—tool of his trade as a jewel thief—was just as taut as ever.
“You let your hair grow.”
Her eyes lingered on his olive skin and silky dark hair, he’d pulled it into a ponytail. He walked toward her, his motions fluid and graceful from martial arts practice.
“Why?” she asked.
“Pourquoi?” He shrugged, one shoulder barely lifting and his mouth kicking up in that charming half-grin she’d fallen so hard for. “Why not?” He stopped a half-breath away from her and looked down at her with whiskey shaded eyes. “I missed you, Alexandrie.””
Alex resisted the urge to stretch up and kiss him. His breath whispered over her face, bathing her in his scent, cedarwood, leather, and roses. Esmé.
“Ton Pere thought we should talk.”
That fucking accent. It melted her panties and had since the first night she’d met him. She snorted. “Talk, right. Like you ever did that.”
Esmé brushed past her, into her father’s office.
“You should see to the door, Alexandrie, it’s past closing time.” His attention on unzipping his leather satchel he chuckled. “Not see my ass, see to the door.”
“Bloody, arrogant, Frenchman.” She yanked her attention away from the delectable view, locked up, then returned to the office. He’d set out several pieces of jewelry on her father’s appraisal tray. Alex bit her lip. Her hands itched to run up his silk clad back.
“I could leave,” she said.
“But you won’t.” He cast her an amused glance before turning away. “You look beautiful as always, my love,” he whispered.
“I’m not your love.”
“Of course, you are. You may be able to dictate to your heart, but you’ve no say whatsoever about how I feel.” He lifted his chin at the gems. His dark voice thrummed with tension. “Come then, appraise these, sign the gemologist’s report and you can be rid of me as easily as you were three years ago.”
“It wasn’t easy.”
“No?” He lifted a brow at her before pacing over. He stopped in front of her, and she closed her eyes, reveling in the heat of his finger under her chin. “Do you miss me, even a little bit?”
Dear gods, she wasn’t this stupid, was she? The word slipped out. “Yes.”
“Mon amour, you break my heart.”
“I don’t mean to.”
He lowered his head, and Alex lifted up on tiptoe. Her forehead smacked Esmé squarely in the nose, hard. He bit out a curse, stepped back and cupped his hands over the bloody mess.
“Merde! As graceful as ever, I see.” His hands muffled his voice. “How can you be so dexterous when dancing and so clumsy elsewhere?”
Clapping her hands over her mouth, Alex let loose a horrified giggle. “I’m so sorry.” She hurried to the washroom and brought back a cold cloth. She guided him to sit in the office chair and stood between his knees. “Move your hands.” She slid her finger along the blade of his aquiline nose and squeezed the bridge. “I didn’t break it.” She pressed the cloth to his face and met his serious eyes.
“My nose is nothing compared to my heart, Alexandrie.””
She bit her lip and searched his gaze. “Leaving broke mine too.”
She tossed aside the cloth and carefully wrapped her arms around his neck to bury her fingers in his hair. She closed the distance and took his mouth in hers. No matter if he danced on the wrong side of the law, he was a good man. Only with him did she feel whole.
Esmé pulled back, and those deft fingers that made him such a skilled thief found her left hand. She didn’t need to look down to know what the body warmed metal hovering over the knuckle of her ring finger was.
“Don’t lie to me again.”
“Yes.” Alexandria slid her finger back into her wedding rings. “Yes.”